Last edited 18 Nov 2020

Strict liability

Strict liability is a legal doctrine that holds an individual or organisation responsible for damage caused whether they have intent or not. It forms part of the law of tort.

Tort is a collection of civil law remedies entitling a person to recover damages for loss and injury which has been caused by the actions, omissions or statements of another person in circumstances that the latter was in breach of a duty or obligation imposed by law.

In tort, rights and obligations are created by the courts applying common law, which has, on the basis of previous authority fallen into three distinct categories:

Under strict liability, the plaintiff is under no obligation to prove fault, negligence or intention on the part of the defendant, only that there has been damage and/or loss caused to them and the defendant was responsible for it either by their acts or omissions.

Strict liability has, for example, been applied by common law in situations where there is a potentially dangerous and non-natural object or operation on an owner’s land. It has been held that the ordinary law of negligence may not afford proper protection under these circumstances, and so, the law has created a liability that is 'strict', where a duty of care is not necessary. The intention of this is to dissuade recklessness and unnecessary loss by encouraging defendants to take all precautions possible.

The case of Rylands v Fletcher [1868] first formulated strict liability. It involved a defendant who had built a reservoir on his land. When the reservoir was filled, the water flooded the plaintiff’s neighbouring coal mines. Despite the defendant not being at fault, he was held liable.

Strict liability has also been attributed to:

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